The creed of exploration

Finding success in Scotland with the high-profile gaming company Rockstar Games, musician and sound designer Danjeli Schembri speaks about his recent experience of getting back together with some Maltese creatives for ‘Verbi: mill-bieb ’il-Gewwa’ – an upcoming multidisciplinary performance devised by the Barumbara Collective

‘Verbi: mill-bieb ’il Gewwa’ is devised by the Brussels-based Barumbara Collective
‘Verbi: mill-bieb ’il Gewwa’ is devised by the Brussels-based Barumbara Collective

What was it that attracted you to ‘Verbi’, and how did it feel to re-connect with some fellow Maltese creatives after having established yourself abroad?

I met Loranne [Vella; writer, performer, artistic director and coordinator] and Sephora [Gauci; performer] in January in Malta and read some of Loranne’s literature in the weeks after that. I think the literature was what turned me on to the project. I saw myself, or a dysfunctional future of myself, in most of the stories.

One in particular describes a date, or the preparation of one and the interior conflict of who you are, and what you should like now, and who you were when you were young – a conflict we all face. I for one think that young behaviour is usually much better or at least more fresh than most adult behaviour. Most of the teens have a better and more exciting outlook on life than your average and otherwise successful 50-year-old. I am very interested in working with anyone who follows the creed of exploration, the drive to do it and a lack of fear of being judged or scrutinised, facing life with excitement rather than calculation.

I have been doing more and more in Malta recently as it looks like the creative scene is improving a lot; the younger artists are amazing, and the social scene is becoming more international. I did sound design for ‘Boulevard’ last summer, which was probably the best rendition of the this piece to date and created a whole new a new electronic music set in Maltese with Annabelle Galea for Rock The South.

How did it feel to be contributing your “bit” to what is a multidisciplinary performance, and what kind of role would you say sound and music plays in ‘Verbi’?

I mostly work in multi-disciplinary teams. I like to explore other forms of art and learn about other art forms, then see what I can bring on the table. ‘Verbi’ being about action, is a very physical performance, so it’s not very difficult to include sound and music to it. Walking, eating, speaking, breathing and having sex… most of our actions make sound, some loud and some quiet, some more and some less interesting than others.

Having been away from Malta for some years now, how do you view your own previous output in the local scene? On a similar note, are there any projects, initiatives and/or individuals that you think are doing interesting work on the island right now?
I think I did my fair share of output for the Maltese scene, and there’ll be more in the future for sure. I think the most particular thing I did was doing much of it in the Maltese language. Projects I’ve been heavily involved in such as Brikkuni, No Bling Show and also my own solo output have all been very particular about using Maltese language, which I think, if you are Maltese you should do.

I listen to Nigerian Afro-Beat bands, and French Hip-hop, and although I don’t understand the language they are much more interesting than if they would be singing in English, that’s for sure. The use of language in itself is an art, and I believe the Maltese are best in the art of Maltese.
From afar, the scene in Malta looks like it’s flourishing.

There’s festivals being born, artists uniting, and events getting better curation (I saw that one of my favourite Italian artists, Vinicio Capossella played at the Notte Bianca this year). I also think that the Maltese have broadened their horizons. They don’t think of themselves only as Maltese but as part of the global artist community. This is probably the first generation to grow as part of the European Union and the younger Maltese artists and organisations are doing very well at it.

In the sound/music scene I like the work of Electronic Music Malta and Malta Sound Women Network. Great work for improving the Maltese scene for generations to come.

Could you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory in Scotland? What advice would you give to local creatives hoping to make it abroad?

I came to Scotland to work with Rockstar Games, in the Audio Department for Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption, which was released last month, is already considered one of the best games ever made, so I’m very humbled to have even worked on it. I also met with a lot of creatives in Rockstar and Edinburgh, who are now obviously some of my best friends and have travelled around Europe creating interactive installations and audio software with them. I now have my own audio company, Signum Audio in Edinburgh.

This year we organised The Edinburgh Festival Of Sound, which was a bit different then organising [local electronic music parties] Pudina, although similarly Moira Scicluna Zahra (who usually does the design for Pudina) did the design for The Edinburgh Festival of Sound and at the end of the night there was probably the same alcohol content in my bloodstream.

Danjeli Schembri
Danjeli Schembri

What is beautiful in our age, is that you are not really bound by borders when you are doing creative work, I work with people and companies from all over the world: the UK, USA, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, Malta, the list goes on. I like working with different people from different countries, especially when I would be the first Maltese they would ever have met.

To the local creatives hoping to make it abroad, I would say that Malta is “abroad” if you come from anywhere which is not Malta… you’ll more or less face the same struggles wherever you go. Look at how you managed to make it in Malta, and you’ll probably manage to do it in another part of the world, or at least Europe.

If you want to discover what the scene is like in a different city just hop on a plane with a one-way ticket. If you don’t like it, you can always go back.

Verbi: mill-bieb ’il ġewwa will be staged at Valletta Contemporary, East Street, Valletta on December 7, 8 and 9 at 20:00.